Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is part of the name, you can use a heat pump for air conditioning. It works by moving heat instead of generating it (the way a furnace does) which is why it also is used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but most air conditioners are about equal in terms of their efficiency. Just look at these two luxury level systems from Lennox.

XC25 air conditioner from Lennox

XC25 Air Conditioner
up to 26 SEER
ENERGY STAR® Qualified

XP25 Heat pump from Lennox

XP25 Heat Pump
up to 23.5 SEER
up to 10.2 HSPF
ENERGY STAR® Qualified



What is SEER and HSPF?


SEER is an efficiency guideline for air conditioners, and the larger the number, the better it is. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not astounding though, and the efficiency varies depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is a rating system that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. Notice from these examples by looking at the SEER rating, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior depending on the model you choose. The biggest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also warm up your home while an AC only cools.

Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps
Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps


Does climate matter for heat pumps?


Heat pumps are most effective in warm climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as an auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We encourage you to consult with a NATE certified HVAC tech who has experience in your area before settling on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your climate, you could have unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature gets too low, it's difficult for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never warm your home to the temperature you set. This means you might unknowingly begin running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during colder months which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a more robust heating system and is essential for certain chillier climates. That’s because a heat pump has trouble when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4.4 degrees Celsius. As odd as it seems, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to extract heat from the outside air and use it to warm the inside air. Just because the air outside feels cold, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to work properly, but in exceptionally cold climates there is not sufficient heat available outside to warm the inside air to higher temperatures needed to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the heating season for someone in Daytona Beach, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If freezing temperatures hit and you don’t have a furnace to take over, a heat pump could run for hours trying to keep your home warm enough.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In some areas, heat pumps can be used with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment as it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s native temperature to heat and cool. This is a fantastic alternative for specific northern areas, but more land must be available in order to install the necessary piping for a geothermal system.

When it comes to home comfort, you probably didn’t need anything else to think about; but, remember, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up buying a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in additional systems when one would suffice.

If you still aren’t convinced which system is best for your home, call TML Service Experts to schedule a free in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to ensure you make the right choice for your home.
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